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Ophthalmology Execs Investigate Tech Upending Eye Care

Some of the world’s leading executives in ophthalmology gathered June 9 in Newport Beach to preview new companies and their technologies.

“It’s a lead generator that connects our company with innovators and entrepreneurs,” Bausch + Lomb Chairman and Chief Executive Brent Saunders told the Business Journal.

“Our team has 20 leads of what they want to follow up with.”

Saunders was one of 450 executives, doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs who attended the Ophthalmology Tech Forum at the Balboa Bay Resort. Orange County has become one of the world’s hotspots for innovative products to solve eye diseases with executives from OC companies making appearances, including Allergan, RxSight Inc., Staar Surgical Co., Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Glaukos Corp.

The event was hosted by Octane, an Orange County accelerator that says 86% of companies who complete its LaunchPad program raise capital and 82% of those remain operational today.

“Our conferences are not intended to be massive in size but rather a place for more intimate opportunities enabling physicians, entrepreneurs, investors, and industry to build a strong future,” Octane CEO Bill Carpou told the audience.

Shark Tank

Executives were secretive about which companies and technologies that they favored to guard their intentions from competitors who also attended the event.

However, one forum that featured five companies each giving five-minute pitches—a “Shark Tank” without the bidding—gave clues as to what they liked.

Winning the attendees favor was Pasadena-based OkuloVision, which says it’s developing a method to treat loss of eyesight as people get older, a total addressable market of $12 billion.

The company, which was aiming to raise $5 million, is developing a cone progenitor cell for treating central vision loss from inherited and acquired dry macular degeneration diseases.

A panel of three judges chose i-Lumen Scientific, a Minnesota-based retinal biotech company that says it’s pioneering a new field in ophthalmics to improve eyesight in patients whose vision has been impaired by age-related macular degeneration.

It asked for $3 million to close out a Series A2 funding round that’s already garnered $14.6 million.

Looking for Innovation

The event attracted top industry executives like David Pyott, the longtime executive of Allergan before it was sold in 2015 and who was talking to other leaders about his charities to resolve eye issues.

“We’re always looking at innovation to solve the biggest problems,” said Peter Menziuso, group chairman of Johnson & Johnson Vision, a unit of the giant pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson.

“We’ll continue to look at the ways we’ll innovate in the areas of cataracts and refractive and what we’re doing with contact lenses. We’re thinking about what our role should be in myopia and glaucoma.”

Approvals for retina drugs such as New Jersey-based Iveric Bio Inc. to treat the dry form of macular degeneration are upending the economics of eye care, as are several new drug entrants for dry eye, according to Jim Mazzo, a longtime ophthalmology industry executive and a co-founder of Octane.

“AI-driven robotic surgical technology still on the horizon may change the way retina and eventually cataract surgery are performed,” Mazzo added.

Saunders was impressed with novel ways to deal with a variety of illnesses affecting the eyes.

“What stood out to me is the number of people taking out bigger risks to solve bigger problems…with bigger opportunities to help patients,” he said.

“I’ll be back next year for sure and every year.”

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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